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May 13, 2013
me+ME:  On Henry Miller (and George Orwell) - 1

If it was not good, it was true; if it was not artistic, it was sincere; if it was in bad taste, it was on the side of life.
-- Henry Miller (on his Sexus, to Lawrence
    Durrell).







Sections

Introduction   
1. On Henry Miller
2. On watching Henry Miller
3. On Henry Miller (and George Orwell)
About ME/CFS


Introduction:

I am still paying back my walk of over two weeks ago, so I am still not feeling very well. (But it may be improving some.)

1. On Henry Miller (and George Orwell)

I did not watch or read Miller a long time, and cannot find any of his books, which is odd, since I did have several of his works. But I read him mostly when I was around 30, and not much or at all afterward.

That is a bit odd, because I liked him. It is true that I am not very much of a literature man, comparatively speaking, at least, since I did read most of "the great works". But then again, I am mostly interested in the truth, and that is not what literature gives one, at least not directly, though indeed most of science also does not - for scientific literature, as a rule, either is not true or else is true but also far removed from ordinary reality.

So let me write something about Miller, whom I also did not write about in Nederlog, except once, in Some Favourite Books & Authors, where I mentioned that his Tropic of Cancer, Sexus and The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch are among my favourite[1] books.

To start with, Henry Miller, who lived from 1891-1980, is an exception in several ways, and was an exceptional man. That he was an exceptional man will be illustrated below, and that he was an exception I will do here by listing some marks that distinguish him from most other writers:

  • He was from a working class background, with only a few years of high school.
  • He did not have any evident literary talent as a boy or young man.
  • In a solid sense, he got pushed into literature by his second wife.
  • He did not publish anything significant until in middle forties, when he lived in Paris.
  • He did no regular work since his early thirties, and never any since.
  • He had very litttle money until he was in his early seventies, mostly because
  • until 1964 almost all his work was forbidden as pornography.
  • His only subject is himself: he wrote about his life, with very little discrepancies from the truth.
  • He was not accepted as a great writer during his life, except by some who were known as great writers, mostly because of what many saw as pornography.
  • He is not accepted as a great writer now, again with some exceptions (a few more than during his life, perhaps).
  • Most who read him - which are or at least were quite a lot - read him because of his pornography, and not for other reasons.

I could mention more distinctions from most writers, but this is a fair list.

Next, I did first read him when I was 28, I think, in 1978, and was quite impressed, mostly because he was honest about sex; because he was at times a great writer; because he did write about something he knew best (himself); and because he was a mystic.

Then again, I stoppoed reading him after seven books or so, mostly because he had not edited out enough; because I had my own life to live; because I was at that time more interested in logic, science and philosophy; because I had little energy because of M.E. and had to make choices; and because I thought that he had mostly failed as a mystic.

2. On watching Henry Miller

Anyway... in fact I decided yesterday to watch some Henry Miller, and that was mostly a pleasant surprise. Here is what I saw, and it gets gradually better. I start with what I consider to be the worst and the longest film, and I end with the best film, so if you really want to hear/see Miller, I recommend you start with the last/last but one of this section.

First I saw: "The Henry Miller Odyssey (1969)" by Robert Snyder. This is mainly disappointing, because although Miller talks quite a lot, he doesn't say much. But what I did like were the pictures of Paris in 1969.

He did live 11 more years, and I also think that by 1969 he had money - for some five to eight years or so: He did not have much money until he was in his 70ies. For it was only then, between 1961 and 1965, that his books could be bought and sold freely, while Miller is from 1891.

Then I watched Snyder's 1974 "Henry Miller - On Writing". That is better, but it seems to have only two parts of 10 or 15 minutes - at least, I did not see more so far. (The link is to part 1. There are more than two parts on Youtube.)

Next, a German film: "Big Sur - Henry Millers Paradies", also with German text. This is from 1983, that is, 3 years after he had died.

This also is a bit disappointing, though Emil White was a special man, but then again this has stuff about Esalen, which I never liked. Anyway, "Ein Produktion des Bayerischen Rundfunks, 1983." That is, it is 30 years old. Which could be seen, though this was better than what I saw from Snyder.

Next, there is: Henry Miller recalls and reflects 1/9. This is the first part of an interview with Ben Grauer from 1956, when Miller was 64 and lived in Big Sur, though the interview seems to have been made in New York.

There are 9 parts, that I have all heard. There is some overlap, and there are some empty bits in it, and it is only sound, but this is the best I that I heard so far on Henry Miller.

Finally, a good video with Miller: Henry Miller Asleep and Awake. This is by Tom Schiller, and Miller is ca. 83, but still quite witty and alive, though he walks with a stick.

Anyway.... I liked what I saw. If you tried either the last but one (only sound) or the last (good video) and didn't like what you heard or saw, then Miller is probably not for you.

But I like him, and I think that he was not appreciated as he should have been, not during his life, and not after it.

This judgement needs some explanations, to which I turn now, with the help of George Orwell.

3. On Henry Miller (and George Orwell)

Orwell got him fairly well but not very well, though he knew him personally, albeit superficially. Here is George Orwell, from an essay about Miller, "Inside the Whale", published in the spring of 1940:

Miller's books are published by the Obelisk Press in Paris.
What will happen to the Obelisk Press, now that war has broken
out and Jack Kahane, the publisher, is dead, I do not know, but
at any rate the books are still procurable. I earnestly counsel
anyone who has not done so to read at least Tropic of Cancer.
With a little ingenuity, or by paying a little over the published
price, you can get hold of it, and even if parts of it disgust you, it
will stick in your memory. It is also an 'important' book, in a
sense different from the sense in which that word is generally
used. As a rule novels are spoken of as 'important' when they
are either a 'terrible indictment' of something or other or when
they introduce some technical innovation. Neither of these ap-
plies to Tropic of Cancer. Its importance is merely sympto-
matic. Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose writer
of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-
speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as
an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a
writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance, and,
after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral
writer, a mere Jonah, a passive accepter of evil, a sort of Whit-
man amongst the corpses. Symptomatically, that is more
significant than the mere fact that five thousand novels are pub-
lished in England every year and four thousand ninehundred of
them are tripe. It is demonstrative of the impossibility of any
major literature until the world has shaken itself into its new
shape. (p. 577-8, "The Collected Essays", etc. vol. 1/4)

These are the concluding words of "Inside the Whale", which is a longish essay by Orwell, published circa April 1940. It is 73 years old this year, and I printed it so as to follow the pagination in the Penguin paper back I have (which also was one of the first books I bought at The Book Exchange, namely on 8.viii.78.)

Incidentally, Orwell sins against most of his own rules of style - "procurable", "counsel", for example - but then these rules are not very clever anyway.

Having meanwhile reread "Inside the Whale", after 35 years, I found that Orwell makes a number of mistakes, of which these are the most important:

  • There was no totalitarianism after the war, in the West
  • Orwell doesn't understand Miller's sense of 'accepting'
  • Miller was not the man of one book

But before discussing these three mistakes, here is first an outline of "Inside the Whale": It is in 3 sections, and covers 48 pages, as per the above, that is about 2/3rd of such a page. Only the first and the third section are about Miller. The middle part is a sketch of

the general development of English literature in the twenty
years since the Great War.

This is to provide a sense for Orwell's part III, which ends as cited above.

But I postpone my discussion of Miller (and Orwell) till the next time: -Next


Note

[1] I spelled this in English in 2010, and leave it as is. Note that I hardly ever use a spellchecker: I seriously dislike them.



About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)


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